A Le Nouvelliste article about a Gros Morne mango plant, closed by order of the US, is being circulated online as an example of the US delivering, according to the mayor, yet another “slap to the Haitian people.” I tend to focus on foreign coverage of Haiti but I’m writing about this LN article (read the English version on Defend.ht) because I want to encourage readers to demand the quality information they deserve about a field as critical to Haiti’s development as economic news–and this article ain’t it.
As an outsider, I learned early on that a defining quality of The Haiti Conversation is the frequency and normalcy with which rumor and hearsay is deployed to support fossilized political points of view.
Think Martians will visit the earth in December 2012? Then you can spin any current news event, say, the Syrian uprising or the possibility of Obama losing the US election, to support and advance your belief. That’s what a lot of The Haiti Conversation sounds like–which is actually fine. Rumors and hearsay are normal parts of society’s exchange.
What’s not fine is when journalism uncritically reports events not in the service of finding out what happened, but in the service of an agenda. To be clear: every publication from the Wall Street Journal to the local community Web site, has an agenda. But not every publication goes so far as to exclude obvious reporting points in order to advance a particular position. It would be a rare editor in the US–even at the high school newspaper level–who’d run that Gros Morne mango article as is because it lacks basic information.
The identification of the US agency that ordered the closing, whether there was an inspection and when it occurred, the specific hygiene violation if there was one, the cost to the factory’s employees, the old and new companies operating the plant and their differences, etc. Yet, the mayor’s opinion is sufficient information to conclude that the US is again sabotaging the Haitian people. It’s a popular point of view and so, the article makes the rounds online, upsetting those whose faces remain contorted for the express purpose of denouncing US involvement in Haiti. That’s a fun sport that never seems to get old.
Ask yourself though: who doesn’t this article serve? Besides treating readers as though they had the collective analytical capacity of a 5-year-old, this article does not serve the people whose livelihoods depend on that factory, nor a competitive business environment. Workers and other businesses need to understand why the factory closed, how to avoid closings in the future and how soon it can reopen, not conjecture. You can’t eat conjecture. You can’t pay for your child’s medical care with conjecture. You can’t deliver the best product with conjecture.
It may seem silly to focus on one small story but I’m looking at these articles in the aggregate. Taken together, and with an already noticeable lack of Haiti business reporting, similar articles retard constructive conversations about Haiti’s development. Key word: constructive.
I will end on a positive note, however. The value of the Internet is that it opens up closed door conversations and has the power to advance or squash rumor and conjecture. So far, a couple of readers have commented that the plant is not yet operational–so they question the reporting of it as closed for hygiene reasons and the integrity of LN’s journalism. Their information needs to be verified of course and I hope readers press LN or another publication to follow up on this (non?)story.